A young mum was left devastated after a dream move to the Scottish countryside turned into a nightmare when her husband was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer.
Matt and Gill Lowther had moved from Leighton Buzzard in Bedfordshire to Peebles to achieve a better work-life balance and were looking forward to raising their two children in the beautiful Scottish Borders.
But shortly after their move, Matt collapsed at home, and after being rushed to hospital he was diagnosed with a high-grade and aggressive brain tumour.
He underwent surgery and treatment but passed away less than two years later, in March 2016 at the age of 38.
Now his wife Gill wants to raise awareness for a disease that mostly kills people under 40 and only gets a tiny one per cent of the government’s funding towards fighting cancer.
Gill said said: “Matt died in March 2016 just months after our tenth wedding anniversary. When we first met I had been struck by his wonderful beaming smile and beautiful blue eyes.
“It’s particularly tragic that the brain tumour which killed him robbed him of his sight. I think it’s true that your eyes are the window to your soul. When he lost his sight, his sparkle disappeared and it never came back.
“Things had changed so much from our happy, carefree holiday to Tenerife in the summer of 2014. Chloe was seven and Oscar was four and it was an age where we could all have great fun together.
“Chloe went back to school in mid-August and Oscar started too. A week later, on the August Bank Holiday, our lives changed forever. Matt and I were unpacking groceries when he had a ringing in his ear and began to feel light headed. He sat down and had a sip of Diet Coke, thinking the sugar would help him, but then he froze and the can dropped to the ground. I didn’t realise it at the time, but Matt was having a seizure.
“As unlikely as it seemed, my first thought was Matt had a stroke. He was admitted to Borders General Hospital and taken to intensive care where he remained unconscious. It was very scary as there had been no symptoms or other warning signs of whatever this was. A CT scan revealed a possible cyst and there was also talk of some kind of infection but the reality was far worse: Matt had brain cancer.”
The family were dealt a further blow when they were told Matt’s tumour was an aggressive grade 4 glioblastoma. “The news was bleak; the tumour would come back and it would shorten Matt’s life,” Gill said.
The average life expectancy for this type of tumour, the most common and most aggressive, is 18 to 24 months after diagnosis. The couple decided they had to be honest with their children.
“When our daughter asked ‘Is Daddy going to die?’ I told her that he was and that he had been fighting hard but the doctors couldn’t help him anymore. She ran in to tell her little brother and we all cuddled and cried together. Although Matt knew it was right to tell the children it was so sad and so difficult for him. It’s one thing talking about someone’s death but quite another when you are speaking about your own,” Gill said.
As the gruelling treatment began to take its course, Matt lost his site and was ended up using a wheelchair. He also found it harder to be around his children, with the noise becoming too much for him.
“It was important for Matt to catch up with old school friends and work colleagues so we set off on a “farewell tour.” It was obvious what we were doing; Matt was saying goodbye. We got to Christmas and it was extremely emotional. Whereas the previous year we had been telling Matt that it definitely wasn’t his last, this time we all knew that it was. We tried to keep things as normal as possible for the sake of the children, we wanted them to remember it as a happy time.
“After that milestone, it was as if Matt felt he had achieved his goal and he started to let go. We noticed there was a lump under the scar on his head and it was distressing to discover that it was caused by the tumour as it grew and pushed through the holes which had been drilled in his skull during surgery.”
Sadly Matt passed away in March this year with Gill, his parents and his brother at his side. He was just 38.
Gill said: “The grieving process for me started 18 months before Matt died as the two of us came to terms with the idea that we were not going to have the life together we planned. I spend a lot of time listening to a playlist we compiled which represented our 15 years together. There is stuff like Dave Pearce dance anthems, REM and U2 and there are happy memories of cruising around in a convertible car with the music at full blast! While Oscar likes to talk about Matt, Chloe doesn’t as she finds it too much of a reminder that he’s not here.
“We have been raising money for Brain Tumour Research in Matt’s memory. It is such a shock to discover that brain tumours kill more children and adults who, like Matt, are under the age of 40, yet just 1 per cent of the national spend on cancer research has been allocated to this devastating disease.
“The photo collages we made for Matt’s funeral now hang in the children’s playroom and Chloe wrote a short verse which was read out at the service on her behalf. It was very simple: Violets are purple, the sky is blue. You will always know how much I love you.
“We moved up to Scotland from Leighton Buzzard in Bedfordshire four years ago. For over a year Matt had been commuting up here on a weekly basis. Now he’s gone, people ask me if I plan to move back but my commitment to Matt is that I will do my best to give the children the childhood we planned together, one where they can play in the countryside and enjoy the outdoors.”
If you have been inspired by Matt’s story, you may like to make a donation via his brother’s Alex’s JustGiving page https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Alex-Lowther1